A return to the Olympic Coast
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Back in March, in what we can now call the before times—before the quarantines and lockdowns—I spent a few glorious days on the wilderness beaches of Olympic National Park doing what I like best: exploring the Pacific Ocean’s complicated margins, watching eagles and clouds pass overhead, relaxing beside the fire.
As it turned out, it would be my last backpacking trip for many months. In the ensuing time, I have been working harder than I ever have in my life, struggling to navigate the changes of a world gone haywire, trying to maintain my equilibrium and to stay positive.
The Olympic Beaches had been closed by the Park Service since April 11. When they reopened in mid-July, I knew I had to go back. The opportunity to return to these glittering, windswept beaches was more than welcome, it was necessary. There’s nothing like a few days of wandering the tide pools and sea stacks to gain perspective, to reacquaint oneself with the real world in all its splendor, succor and silence, to escape, if only for a few days, the reach of Google News.
And so it was that I found myself—along with several of my favorite human beings—overloaded pack on my back, walking eagerly through the moss-festooned rain forest toward the blue-green Pacific. It felt like coming home.
At Third Beach, we turned south and enjoyed easy going on packed sand, moving in rhythm with the music of the waves and the plaintive songs of vociferous seagulls. The beach came to an abrupt end at the looming headland of Taylor Point with its sinuous waterfall cascading down from parts unknown. A series of “sand ladders” and fixed ropes provided access to the top of the point, suitably challenging to mandate a reconnection to the elemental. Sweat, in a strange way, cleanses the palette and the state of alertness presented by hanging off a cliff on a rope tends to clarify the mind.
We crossed the top of the headland through gardens of salal, deer ferns and mushrooms before dropping down to a lonelier beach for a few moments, followed by another rope-assisted ascent to Scott Bluff. After passing through cool, shadow-filled rain forest, we dropped once again to the beach and dropped our packs beside Scott Creek, our home for the evening. The ocean breathed like a living thing in the last light of day. It was sublime.
In the morning, after a suitable period of reverie (and several cups of coffee), we broke camp and continued south around Graveyard Point. Offshore, the Graveyard of the Giants—a collection of dark sea stacks—lined the horizon like massive teeth. We rounded Strawberry Point with its flower gardens and grazing deer and made our way beside the surf to our destination: Toleak Point.
The days that followed were consumed by serendipity; explorations of the complicated topography of towers and pillars that comprised the point proper; the rich, golden sunlight streaming between the rocks to illuminate sand, seaweed and sea like a Renaissance painting; soaring eagles and swimming raccoons; spectacular sunsets that painted the ocean in rose and magenta. Evenings spent in relaxed conversation around a crackling driftwood beach fire, watching an orange crescent moon set on the vast Pacific.
Eventually, of course, it was time to head back, hiking along the broad sandy beaches and navigating the assorted chutes and ladders over the headlands. After one last lingering mile through the green forest, we found ourselves back at the trailhead and headed for home, our hearts restored and our minds filled with ocean dreams.
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